When anger is all that is left
COLUMBIA, Mo 1/9/15 (Op Ed) -- White folks have a difficult time understanding why Ferguson protesters burned down several stores in their own community. We had an equally difficult time understanding how the Rodney King beating twenty years earlier led to riots and burnings in East Los Angeles.
Most of the stores in both communities were locally owned, and many of the owners likely sympathized with the protesters.
The citizens of Ferguson reacted immediately after the exoneration Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, a young black man. All they knew was that, once again, the "system" had ruled a police officer within his legal rights to shoot an unarmed black person.
Their anger over the grand jury's non-indictment was unfocused, and released on the shopping district of the Ferguson community. The violence and arson they committed were stupid, illegal, and senseless.
Nonetheless, their reaction was understandable, though understanding does not mean agreement. I do not agree with the protest tactics after the grand jury verdict. But I can understand from whence the anger sprang.
Credible analysts claim typical police procedures in the Brown case were not followed, They also conclude Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch got what he wanted by crediting non-credible grand jury witnesses and criticizing credible ones.
Before the grand jury even convened, many Ferguson citizens and elected officials felt McCulloch was too close to police officials, and could not provide unbiased guidance and information. There were calls early on for Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to appoint a special prosecutor, and McCulloch stated he would step down if that occurred.
But McCulloch stayed, defending his actions to the last.
As for Eric Garner in New York, we have seen the video of his death, many times. To any reasonable person, it appears a police chokehold led to Garner's demise. But a grand jury ruled otherwise, and a police spokesperson agreed, defending the NYC police officer responsible.
It is natural for anyone to defend one of their own, but sometimes silence is the better option. When police officers circle the wagons and speak out in defense, no matter how egregious the conduct, it supports an unfortunate assumption.
People assume the police are not there to protect and serve, but to act as judges, juries, and executioners of unarmed civilians -- particularly civilians who are black.
Recently, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a column entitled "When Whites Just Don't Get It". Kristof suggests that if things were reversed -- black policemen, young white men -- Whites would get it quickly.
But we white folks don't get the white policemen-black young men scenario.
We don't get what it means to be black in America, or that there are two Americas. That's too bad, because it's in our best interest to start getting it, on the way to closing this divide. People who feel they have no other recourse take, what to the rest of us, seem irrational actions.
And when anger is all that is left, innocent people inevitably get hurt.